Succeeding in Organizations
Jonathan T. Jefferson
“If I knew back then, what I know now
If I understood the what, when, why and how
Now it’s clear to me what I should have done…”
George Benson 20/20 lyrics
I heard it said that today’s graduates will make an average of nine job changes during their careers. I heard that said several years ago, but it is likely still true today. Yours truly is in his ninth professional job since leaving graduate school in 1993. In each of the nine organizations where I was employed, I earned stellar evaluations from my supervisors. How did I succeed, and why did I work in so many places? This essay will share some insights on how I navigated through the challenges inherent in all organizations.
The size of organizations range from one to millions, their purposes differ, and their organizational charts vary. However, there is one constant that is evident in all. People... People make the world go around, and they are the engines that keep businesses running. Have you ever made a mistake and said to yourself “I’m only human”? We all make mistakes just as we all harbor frailties. Therefore, where there are people, there exist shortcomings. Understanding that all organizations have inherent imperfections is the first step toward individual success.
The maze within organizations is beset by mine fields and potholes. There exist uplifting personalities, downtrodden souls, and every other character trait imaginable. Where do you fit in? Are you the jovial type who likes to whistle while you work, the constant complainer, or the angry-at-the-world-just-because employee? What about those around you? Like it or not, we are often judged by the company we keep, and there is the quintessential notion that “birds of a feather flock together.”
New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, absolved himself of the actions taken by two of his former advisors (Chief of Staff, & Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) regarding “Bridgegate”. Bridgegate refers to the George Washington Bridge lane closures aimed at frustrating Fort Lee, New Jersey, residents to punish the Fort Lee mayor for not endorsing Christie’s re-election. Christie tweeted, “I had no knowledge or involvement in the planning or execution of this act.” However, he appointed individuals who might harbor a penchant for vengeance. Those willing to win by any means necessary… Considering Mr. Christie’s very public berating (“Sit down and shut up!”) no one should be surprised by the alleged egregious behaviors of those he appointed.
To succeed you must have a moral compass. Having a moral compass includes having integrity, being kind, and being balanced (not apt to over-react). Doing what is right when no one is watching, treating people the way you want to be treated, and choosing to navigate still waters instead of rough rapids. Along with a moral compass, one must be able to look into the mirror of their character and make an honest assessment. What are your shortcomings, and how can you overcome or mediate them?
Clearly, if Christie’s advisors were self-aware, and guided by a moral compass, indictments could have been avoided. The same could be said for the 11 former Atlanta school educators convicted of racketeering for changing grades on students’ state exams. What drove them to this? Was it greed? Performance bonuses were paid based on students’ improved test scores. Was it fear? With mortgages, car notes, and student loans, the fear of losing one’s job if they did not play along (cheat) may have been real. Knowing their own frailties (greed, fear, etc.), and having a moral compass, would likely have kept those wayward teachers on the right path.